From undergraduate to postgraduate - small steps, not a giant leap

Posted in: academic skills, communication, postgraduate study, time management

If you're graduating this summer and are looking to continue your academic studies this autumn, you may have lots of questions about what postgraduate study is like. Head of Digital and Academic Skills Dave Busby sets out what to expect if you're making the move from undergraduate to postgraduate study.

If you’ve just finished your undergraduate studies, there could be a variety of reasons why continuing your studies at postgraduate level seems like the right thing to do in the current circumstances. But how does postgraduate study differ from undergraduate study? Is it much of a leap to study for a master’s degree after three or four years of undergraduate study?

Manage your time

Postgraduate courses are typically only for a year but it’s a busy year! You can expect to read and study a lot in a short time so it can seem quite intense. While this can feel like a big leap, it probably isn’t too demanding if you bring all of your good study habits with you.

Time management is the key to success at postgraduate level. Remember to organise your time carefully and plan your schedule for reading and writing. Revise all the techniques for reading and note-taking you used at undergraduate level. The more prepared you are to work hard and manage your time, the less intense the year will feel.

If you need some tips on managing your time, you can access this short online course.

Ask for help

The University offers a wide range of services to help you in the transition from undergraduate to postgraduate studies. As part of the Stay Connected initiative for this year’s graduating students, we’ve developed the 'Make your move to PGT study' short course to help make sure the move up is as smooth as possible.

If you find yourself overwhelmed by the amount of study involved, just remember that help is around the corner and many of your peers will be feeling exactly the same. It would be good to arrange some study groups where you can work with your classmates and share good practice.

Learn from your peers

You may well be sharing a class with people returning to study, students from many different countries and those who have studied a range of subjects. Don’t shy away from students who may be older or seem to have more experience than you – think about what you can learn from them and what they can learn from you!

You may also find greater variety in the way you’re taught as your tutors will probably have different styles of teaching and expectations of learners.

Communicate clearly

You may be expected to make group presentations or discuss reading you’ve done in a seminar group. Clear communication is very important for developing good working relationships with your classmates and for getting the best out of the experience (have a look at the tips in our ‘5 steps to effective group working’ blog and in this Effective Online Group Work short course). Join in and be positive - this will help make your classes interesting.

Plan your extended assignment

One of the biggest differences between undergraduate and postgraduate study is the extended assignment you may have to complete in the final third of the year.

You’ll need to be a lot more independent in choosing your topic, conducting research and writing up results. When you start your course think about the topics you’re most interested in and the kind of work you’d like to do in the future. It’ll be a lot easier to manage an extended project over a long period of time if you feel positive and motivated by the topic.

There’s lots more help available on writing dissertations in our Academic & Employability Skills blog.

The voice of experience

Here’s what a student who recently moved from undergraduate to postgraduate studies said about her experience:

“I guess the biggest differences were working with older people… the increased number of assignments due at one time (at undergrad they space it out for you much more!)… the jump between classes and assignments – we covered the very basics in class but we’re expected to deep dive in our essays so there was a big knowledge gap… and the wildly varied styles of teaching. I suppose because an MA is more specialised, the people who taught us had really different teaching styles whereas undergrad stuck to a formula.”

If you’re joining us to do a postgraduate course this autumn, good luck, and remember the Skills Centre is here to help if you need extra support with your academic, English, maths and statistics or digital skills.

What's your experience of moving from undergraduate to postgraduate level? Please share your transition tips in the comments!

Blog updated June 2021.

Posted in: academic skills, communication, postgraduate study, time management

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